PR and Politics on Display with the Florida Debate 2012

For me PR in politics is at its best when there is a US presidential election and the debates start taking place.  I have seen a few ‘must see’ political PR films recently and enjoyed them both immensly – the first was the film ‘The War Room’ -(Documentary movie – 1993) and the more recent ‘The Ides of March’.  ‘The War Room’ was a bit of an eye opener.  If you watch that and then the film ‘Primary Colours’ you will see where they got some of their ideas from.  Anyway enough of films and documentaries lets get on to the Florida Debate.

Well, I have finally had time to watch the Florida Debate that took place on Thursday. To be perfectly honest I have not been following any of the debates so far but seen some of the previous candidates drop out of the race. From my brief glimpses on the news I thought Cain was a certain winner and then he was gone.  After I saw Michele Bachmans speech that she would not be continuing I thought it must be almost over.   I see now that the Replublican race for a presidential candidate is down to four. Obama must be having sleepless nights in preperation for the presidential debates or is it his campaign communications director who should be worried.   After watching the debate I have to say Ron Paul and Rick Santorum won’t be in the final two.  It will be between Newt Gingrich (I battle with his name so lets just call him Big G) and Mitt Romney.

As far as messages are concerned Mitt Romney is slick and has an answer for everything.  When you watch and listen you believe what he is saying and you know he is informed.  My concern with Big G was that he seemed to be doing a lot of fighting talk and it was precious time which could have been spent on key issues.  Big G being a Speaker of the House certainly has his finger on the pulse as far as issues in government are concerned.  I thought that in the debate he came across as very keen to spend money on the military if he were president.  I don’t necessary feel pleased about him handling health care. But if he gets his campaign team to work on his charisma he may be in with a shout.  As far as Rick Santorum was concerned I thought he finished the debate well but on a number of occasions I thought his answers were a bit of a thumb suck and in one or two instances I am sure he was glad to be the last candidate to answer the question as he was able to poach the answers off the other candidates. My eyebrows were raised a bit when he doubted global warming. (I suggest he make a trip to the poles while there is still ice there.)  I did smile a bit when he said that he believed in Fundamental Freedoms – if only I could have been Wolf Blitzer for a moment and asked who doesn’t believe in them.

I feel that Ron Paul is a bit like your grandfather, the perfect person to listen to but do you really want him dithering whether or not to send forces to a confict?  He seems too much of a nice guy and does not have the forcefullness you expect from a president when it is required. I am looking forward to any more debates if there are any – in the next few I will be very interested to see what Big G and Mitt Romney have to say.

I wish I could put a question to the candidates – it would be an environmental one –  Since George Bush Senior signed the International Climate treaty in Rio but it was not binding – Vice President Al Gore in Kyoto created something binding but then never brought it before the senate – President George Bush then scrapped Americas signing of the Kyoto Agreement because it was ‘Fatally flawed in fundamental ways.’  I’d want the candidates to tell me their environmental policies.  At the very least it would be a good laugh to see the candidates lie as no previous president has done something substantional when it comes to the environment.


Is censorship ethics for violence in the news over?

I remember when I was first studying PR and one of the subjects was Media Studies.  One day the lecturer mentioned that the topic would be censorship and everyone assumed, as students do, that it was all about keeping people fully clothed on the television and in magazines. But to my surprise it was to do with violence in newspapers and television.  What do you show and what don’t you show?  Growing up in South Africa I’m afraid most of us students were all desensitized to violence compared to other PR students in the Northern Hemisphere.

It is quite understandable that you don’t want to sit down and watch the news after getting home from work to see some person in a war zone with half their head removed.  Last year when the navy seals stormed the Osama Bin Laden compound in Pakistan a lot of people wanted to see proof that he was indeed dead.

I must confess in a time of wanting instant information I went looking online for a bit more information. I did not find images of Osama Bin Laden but other people who were killed in the operation.  Well the images had to be found and certainly not on National TV News.

Looking at all the unrest in the Middle East recently from Egypt through to Libya there almost seems like daily atrocities happening somewhere and TV News networks are there to broadcast it to the world. Do I really want to see children who have been shot and in hospital?  Honestly NO! But even as I sit and watch it what can I do to help? In my view, absolutely nothing. So why do I need to see it?  It must be sensationalism to increase viewership which in turn increases advertising revenue.  I must admit watching the grotesque images on the news when Colonel Gadaffi was killed. In some small way networks seemed to think it was alright to view because of the huge response by the public to see images of Osama Bin Laden after it was reported he was dead.

Years ago, I remember speaking with an old school newspaper editor who was appalled at another newspaper that had put a large colour picture of a dead body on the front of its newspaper.  He told me it was done for shock value and an attempt to compete with TV.  I was fairly new to the industry and was rather surprised that the persons face had not been blacked out in the picture – something that in media studies I was told would always happen.

Looking back to when I was a student back in the dark ages before email, the internet, social media and blackberrys, it was very easy to agree with censorship ethics but in our modern age with instant news censorship is almost impossible to contain.

If you don’t like stress steer clear of working in PR

I must admit I have worked for a fair number of years in PR and have dealt with a few serious issues in my time.  Looking back I must admit that I have had that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach more times than I have fingers or toes.  Something happens and you fight to get positive messages out before the newspaper deadlines start slamming in your face.  But if you manage to create some good news out of an impossible story I must admit there is no greater high.

I read in PR Week this week that in a survey -The Ten Most Stressful White Collar Jobs in America — it was found that PR is the second most stressful job after being an airline pilot.  I can quite agree with it as any PR person will tell you that reputation management is very stressful.  How so? some may ask.  Well in PR you really have to know what is going on in every department of the organisation. It is not like sales where you may have a dip in sales for a month or two.  Let’s say a spokesman gives a quote to the media which is misinterpretted and creates unhappiness or even may question the trust of the organisation. So much can happen. What you say as the PR person in response if negative could affect the organisations share price and even affect sales.  How you respond? How quickly you respond and who responds with a message or statement to calm people is essential. Knowing what you say will affect the company can be stressfull and I will never forget the day I was working for an organisation when the CEO turned to me and asked “What do I do?”    I had to give him advice on the media which was fine as media relations is fairly easy but afterwards it got me thinking how important my job was and that the leader of the organisation needed my help.  How often does any department in an organisation get the CEO asking for help?

In regard to issuing statements if I am really pressed for time  I have found that if you keep it vague it normally buys you some time.  If you are not saying you are investigating you could always do the old favourite I used in London — “We take all enquires seriously but it is the organisations policy not to comment on any individual case.” Well it worked before FOI! 😉

Marketing Craftsmanship

Although Edward Bernays is often characterized (largely through self-promotion) as the “father of public relations,” most serious PR practitioners consider Arthur W. Page to be the first and most influential apostle of modern-day public relations and corporate communications.

From 1927 to 1946, Page served as a vice president and director at AT&T, and his many contributions to the profession are recognized today as namesake of The Arthur W. Page Center for Integrity in Public Communication – a research center at Penn State’s College of Communications – as well as the Arthur W. Page Society, whose members are corporate chief communications officers or senior officials at public relations agencies.

Page’s most lasting legacy, however, may be the seven rules of PR management, known as the Page Principles, that he espoused:

  • Tell the truth.Let the public know what’s happening and provide an accurate picture of the company’s character, ideals and practices.

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Propaganda by Edward Bernays should be mandatory reading for PR people

I have recently finished reading the book called ‘Propaganda’ by Edward Bernays.  I was quite surprised with the information in the book considering it was written in 1928.  I know for a fact it was read by Dr Josef Goebbels and some of the recommendations in the book were used by the Nazi party during World War II.  In a modern society I do wonder sometimes if some PR consultancies are strictly helping clients with PR as in public relations or PR in the sense of press releases and publicity. There are people in the industry who cannot tell the difference.    Although publicity can count for a fair amount of the work, I do like thinking of the bigger picture in a PR campaign — The ultimate goal of changing the mind of the public without them knowing.

I would recommend this book for those looking to find out what the origins of PR are and what the experts were hoping to achieve at the start of the profession.  It is a must read for people in the profession.  Being only 168 pages it is not a long read but is packed full of interesting info that had me hooked from the beginning.

Below is the first part of the documentary Century of the Self which explains the beginnings of PR and the rise of Edward Bernays.